Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

57: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part II:

Summary by: Jeff McLaren
         The authors claim that our notion of sovereignty is a very recent development that started as a response to the crisis of modernity. The crisis of modernity started in the Reformation and developed and morphed through the Renaissance and the modern enlightenment era. When we discovered the plane of immanence and then gave it and freedom a value higher than the plane of transcendence we experienced a loss of the psychological security provided by the established social order.(Q1) The keepers of the plane of transcendence; the forces of the old social order, recognizing the power inherent in the plane of immanence have been extremely successful in their quest to harness and control it.(Q2) The crisis of modernity is the continuing battle for the allegiance of the multitudes to either freedom or control.(Q3)
         The notion of sovereignty was developed to assert control over the plane of immanence; when it proved to be insufficient, the notion of nation was developed and presented as the source of sovereignty; when the nation, in the body of the sovereign, proved to be insufficient a further abstraction was needed to give legitimacy to the nation and by extension to sovereignty: “the People.”(Q4)
         These three concepts, sovereignty, the nation and “the people” have served to temporally mitigate the crisis of modernity (usually by exporting the freedom aspect) and in the process have made and defined both the good and the bad of the modern and postmodern world. Some examples would be racism, slavery, colonialism and religious fundamentalism.
         Consider the evolution of racism: modern biologically based racism that went by names such as “the white man's burden” or “our manifest destiny” or “the master race” is currently discredited. This modern form of racism has been replaced by a postmodern form of racism in which biology is replaced by culture. We now say that anyone can become like us and their skin colour does not matter while at the same time saying that the Other cannot overcome his/her upbringing. All we have done in the postmodern form of racism is to replace the unchangeable biological factor with a changeable (in principle) cultural factor which in practice is actually unchangeable.(Q5)
         Consider the evolution of slavery: modern formal slavery in which the slave had to work very hard just so they could eat and live has been replaced by a system in which we are “free” to chose to work or not work in principle but in reality we are under eminence social and financial pressure to do what our boss says.(Q6) All modern negatives continue to exist in the postmodern world with only the plane of presentation made to look more acceptable.
         The notion of “the People” also needed to be created and then presented as the base of the nation: first “an Other” was found to compare against. The Other embodied all the imagined negative qualities of “the people” thereby defining and creating “the People” as the good. Anyone who could be a member of “the People” would naturally be one or there would be cause to think something is wrong with the objecting individual. In this way the multitude can be fantastically turned into a unified homogenous “people”.
         The notion of “the People” is today under assault.(Q7) The nature of the the postmodern world crisis is that “the People” does not exist. We are more accurately a multitude. When we are reduced to just one of “the People” we are stripped of all the characteristics that make us living humans. This thereby makes us malleable enough to be shaped by who ever claims to speak in the name of the People.
         Q1 The authors claim that the social structure of the middle ages with its set ways of doing things and relative lack of freedom of mobility (in space and rank) gave people a peaceful sense of place that was psychologically much more satisfying than our modern or postmodern world. For example one did not worry about what one would do with one's life nor worry about losing their place in the social order. Do you believe that the freedom to make the most of ourselves or the freedom to be whatever we want with the accompanying possibility of failure and ruin makes us more anxious than people in a set and stable social order?
         Q2 The plain of immanence is the material world of freedom and of science; the plane of transcendence is realm of ethics, of authority, of order. Since the scientific revolution, since the popular rebellion against classical authorities, there has been a conflict between the forces that want to be free to do what ever they want and the forces that want to limit and control the discourses of science and freedom. Do you believe there is such a battle?
         Q3 The authors believe that the freedom-control dichotomy is false but real. There is no real justification for it but it exists in every aspect of our lives. For example: Do you believe women should be free to do what they want with their bodies or do you believe that a foetus should be protected from harm? Depending on your stance, the powers that produce and set the discourse and have a material stake in the matter have recruited you in that particular battle as a foot soldier in their war with the other side. Do you believe that the freedom-control dichotomy is false but real? By taking up arms on one side or the other you are calling forth or summoning Empire. Although there are many worthwhile causes, the authors ask us to beware because a cause's first goal is not its stated goal rather it is its own legitimation and aggrandizement. Do you buy this line of reasoning?
         Q4 Do you consider yourself to be one of “the People?” (Or “the Crown” – as the embodiment of the people in the Queen) Do you support everything government does in the name of “the People?” Are your viewpoints the same as any other member of “the People?” The authors claim that this partial identification with “the People” serves the illusion of unity and order. If even only one person agrees with “the People” they are used to silence objections and stop arguments. Phrases like: “that is the law” or “those are the rules” are warranted by the will of the people. Do you find the notion of the people beneficial or detrimental to your life?
         Q5 Do you believe that the election of a black president shows that people can overcome racism or just modern racism? Does the fact that Obama was raised by his white mother (presumably in white culture) and not in his black father's culture suggest that postmodern racism is very prevalent. Do you believe that a black man from “da 'hood” could ever become president of America? How does the idea of a Muslim Imam as prime minister strike you? Are you a postmodern racist?
         Q6 In postmodern wage slavery many people at the bottom have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet; while people near the top find that they have to work long and hard because their family and friends demand a certain lifestyle. In principle both of these cases are free to not work as hard but in practice they are not really free. Do you believe postmodern slavery is a real phenomenon?
         Q7 At its core sovereignty means that someone is sovereign and someone else is subject. Do you see any contradiction or intolerable problem with the notion of “the people” being sovereign in a democracy? The authors claim that what we have in the West is the illusion of democracy – in fact we have never had democracy in any meaningful sense. How does this idea strike you.

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren